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Allegheny County Bar Association starts Institute for Gender Equality

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Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009

Three years after an Allegheny County Bar Association survey revealed a gap in pay between male and female lawyers, the group today will start its Institute for Gender Equality.

The institute, headed by bar association gender equality coordinator Linda Varrenti Hernandez, will offer classes targeting legal decision-makers, practitioners and law students in the upcoming months.

A luncheon today kicking off the program features first lady Marjorie Rendell, a federal appeals court judge, and Laurel Bellows, a women's rights advocate.

"Women are leaving the practice of law in droves," Hernandez said. "They're not rising to positions of leadership. We really want to make an impact on that."

Hernandez pointed to the results of a 2006 membership survey showing little or no improvement in pay disparity between male and female lawyers in the 15 years since a previous survey was conducted.

According to the survey, only about 5 percent of female lawyers make more than $250,000 a year. About 20 percent of men do. No women surveyed who graduated law school in the 1990s made $250,000 or more, while almost 10 percent of the male graduates of the 1990s did.

Nationally, about 17.3 percent of partners in law firms are women. In Allegheny County, 15.8 percent are, said Kim Brown, president of the county bar association.

The association has approximately 6,600 members, and about 1,780 of them women, spokesman Tom Loftus said.

Brown said the gap exists despite high-profile examples of women in leadership positions, such as U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel and U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose, who recently stepped down as chief judge.

"There has been a lot of progress in many areas of law, such as on the bench," Brown said. "There's an inability to crack that last barrier to succeed in law firms."

Rendell, 61, who has been a federal judge for 16 years, said a lot has changed since she became a lawyer, but that much hasn't.

She told one story of when she was an attorney, and a judge didn't think she fit a lawyer's description.

"He turned to me and said I should be a model. On one hand that's very flattering but on the other hand, it's not. You're there representing a client," Rendell said. "It's little things like that."




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